Two Cheers For Leadership Instability


Polls are funny things, aren’t they? That was a joke, of course – polls aren’t funny, they’re unbelievably boring and awful. But if you take “funny” not to mean “amusing”, but rather “weird and unsettling”, polls actually are pretty funny. They behave in strange ways.

Take Julia Gillard’s polls. They were incredibly low, even though a lot of very clever people with blogs pointed out that in fact she was not only an excellent prime minister, but a kind-hearted and generous lady who would probably give you a cuddle if you ever met her. The government was doing all kinds of good things, too, but somehow the polls remained as firmly fixed to rock bottom as a barnacle that someone spilled cement on. It was almost as if political popularity had, at some point in the last three years, ceased to have any relation to performance.

So what are we to make of this alarming development, the first time in political history that a politician has been treated unfairly by the public? First of all, we must accept that Kevin Rudd is right. About everything. Seriously, we have to or he might hurt us. Look into his eyes: it’s terrifying. God only knows what he’ll do to us if we try to disagree with him.

Perhaps what Kevin Rudd was most right about was that by making him prime minister again, we could have a fighting chance at avoiding the prospect of an Abbott government, something that 90 percent of major world religions officially recognise as a harbinger of the opening of Hell. The simply fact is that since Rudd unseated Gillard in a charisma-less coup, the polls have rebounded as if Rudd, indeed, was rubber and Abbott, indeed, was glue, and Gillard, indeed, was the weird kid who smells a bit funny and wears prescription shoes to school.

The fact is that Labor’s sudden leadership change has caught Abbott off guard. He had settled into a nice anti-Gillard rhythm over the last three years, a comfortable groove where he barely even had to think, a situation that suits his talents perfectly. By the end he was campaigning more by muscle memory than conscious action, his reflexes belting out “liar” and “call an election” and “my wife thinks I’m pretty great” almost involuntarily.

But Rudd has thrown him for a loop. Abbott knew how to handle Gillard: by allowing people to read the newspapers. With Rudd, he doesn’t know what’s up or what’s down. Telling Rudd he needs to make an honest woman of himself just sounds silly. What’s more, it’s almost impossible for Abbott to remember what he can call the prime minister a liar for anymore.

And there is the key to Labor’s election victory: confusion. The Opposition is in a flap. They know what the Government has done wrong, but it’s getting more and more difficult to keep straight which government did which thing. Was it the first Rudd government that lied about the carbon tax, or was it the Gillard government? Which one stuffed up the mining tax? Was the mining tax a bad thing to start with, or did Gillard make it bad by not making it big enough? Or did Rudd make it bad by making it too big? Which one out of Gillard and Rudd has murdered more refugees? You see how the bewilderment grows and grows.

And Labor can capitalise on this, but only if it is bold, and avoids the mistakes of the past. The main mistake they need to avoid is the obvious one: In the last six years they’ve had two leaders, each of which hung around for years. It is imperative that the party not stagnate in this way again. Rudd has always been a fan of evidence-based policy: well, the evidence is in; people like it when the prime minister changes.

It’s worked twice now. Gillard got a bump when she knocked Rudd off, and Rudd’s got one for knocking Gillard off. Gillard’s mistake was in hanging around more than a few weeks. Rudd can’t fall into the same trap. Labor must call another leadership spill by the end of July at the latest.

Now, for this next spill, it’s OK to play it safe. It will be acceptable to give Gillard another go – after all, Rudd got one. But after she’s had a turn for a fortnight or so, they need to bring in some fresh blood. I recommend Bill Shorten – not just because he lusts for power and has a slightly mad look in his eye, but also because his mother-in-law is the governor-general and she can pull some tricky moves if Abbott wins the election.

Post-election, of course, Shorten will need to make way for the next person. Probably this will be Anthony Albanese. It’s vital to let Albanese have a go at being PM because it will allow everyone in the press gallery to call him “Albo” several dozen times a day, and thus pacify them and stop them breaking big damaging news stories like what colour nail polish Anna Burke wore in Question Time.

After Albo goes, it’ll be getting into the warmer months, so it’ll be apt to give the government a breezy, summery feel by giving Tanya Plibersek the prime ministership. She’s the perfect PM for lazy hot days down by the swimming hole.

But naturally Labor will need to change again by Christmas: the festive season requires a festive prime minister, and so for the month of December the PM will be Dick Adams. In fact, it’d be good to create a tradition whereby Adams is PM every Christmas. People love traditions, and his jolly bearded face will remind everybody that Labor is the natural party of Santa Claus, whereas the Liberals are the natural party of hating children and joy.

Back to business in January though, and time for Chris Bowen to take the reins in order to create a sense of calm, stately stewardship. From there they can play it by ear: the pattern will be established and the populace will be solidly on side. In fact the change of leader every three weeks will bring a feeling of adventure and fun to public life, and people will enjoy the excitingly fluid new paradigm. Not to mention the billions flowing into government coffers thanks to the range of new markets that bookmakers can offer odds on.

And most importantly of all, the Libs will be flummoxed. Switching from Rudd to Gillard caught them on the hop, but going back to Rudd has floored them. Going back to Gillard, and then to Shorten, and then to Albanese, and then to Plibersek, and then to Adams, and then to Bowen, and then to Ed Husic, and then to Mark Dreyfus, and then to Amanda Rishworth, and then to Shorten again, and then to Rudd again, and then to Mark Butler, and then most unexpectedly to Malcolm Fraser, and then to Penny Wong’s baby, will leave the Opposition in no fit state to even stand up straight, let alone provide a viable alternative government.

We've all seen the polls. This is what the people want. The fate of this nation, and the very principle of representative democracy, demands that the Australian Labor Party listen to voters, and deliver strong, effective, and constantly changing leadership.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.